Babies have a strong need to be close to their parents. This helps them feel secure and loved, which can help with their development.
It is not true that babies become spoilt or demanding if they are given too much attention. Newborn babies are also too young to learn or fit into a routine. Instead, babies thrive when their parents respond to their needs.
This means that they may cry unless they are held. A lot of parents worry that their baby will get so used to this that they will never be able to be independent or sleep alone. But this is not true.
When babies feel secure, it releases a hormone called oxytocin, which makes them happy and helps their brains grow and develop. Holding, smiling, and talking to your baby also releases oxytocin in you, which will help your growing bond.
Find out more about your baby’s development.
Skin-to-skin means having your baby on your chest, their naked skin next to yours, with a blanket over both of you for warmth if needed. You can put it in your birth plan, as it is a great thing to do straight after your baby’s been born. You can do skin-to-skin if you have had a vaginal birth or a caesarean section. You don’t have to wait until you are in the recovery room to do this.
It’s best if you and your baby have the skin-to-skin contact straight after the birth. If there’s any reason you cannot do this, your birth partner (if you have one) can do it until you can.
There are lots of reasons to have skin-to-skin contact with your baby. It can:
- help you bond
- calm and de-stress you both
- help with breastfeeding
- keep your baby warm
- regulate your baby’s heart rate, breathing rate and blood sugars
- comfort your baby.
If you cannot hold your baby skin-to-skin, you could hold their hand or gently touch them, so they can feel your warmth. Any touch from a parent can comfort them and help you bond.
Staying safe while practising skin-to-skin
You can have skin-to-skin cuddles with your baby for as long as you like. Just make sure you are fully awake and alert. Falling asleep on a bed, sofa or armchair with your baby increases the risk of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS). Do not fall asleep during skin-to-skin time. As soon as you feel sleepy, put your baby flat on their back in a Moses basket or crib next to your bed, while you get some rest.
Find out more about safe sleep for babies.
Skin-to-skin in NICU
If your baby is in the neonatal unit (NICU) then ask your midwife or nurse about having some skin-to-skin contact (also known as kangaroo care). This has immediate and long-term benefits for premature and low birthweight babies, such as:
- reduced hospital stays
- improved physical and brain development
- improved social development
- improved breastfeeding.
It is natural to feel upset if you have to wait to enjoy skin-to-skin contact. But you can do skin-to-skin in the days, weeks and months to come. Whether you breastfeed or bottle feed, there will be plenty of chances to do skin-to-skin.
Eye contact with your baby
Making eye contact with your baby can help you bond.
Newborn babies can see, but their vision is blurred and they cannot see colours very well. Your baby will be best able to focus on things that are close to them, such as your face. They will also prefer objects that have high contrast colours, such as black and white patterns.
By the time your baby is 2 weeks old their eyes will be able to follow your face. Giving them plenty of eye contact, and lots of smiles, will help them learn to recognise you.
Talking with your baby
One of the key things you can do with your baby is hold them close and talk to them calmly, each day, as often as you can. Chat about what you are doing, and what is around you.
You can try reading a book or singing, which really helps them tune in to the rhythm of words. At some point, your baby will start making sounds and gurgling back at you. Saying the sounds your baby makes back to them teaches your baby useful lessons about listening and taking turns when talking.
Holding your baby
Hold your baby as much as you can (in your arms or in a sling). When you cuddle your baby, they feel safe and loved, building on that bond between you both. You cannot spoil a baby, with ‘too much’ cuddling – it is what they need.
Find out more about your baby's development, and how they learn to communicate with you.